Young Middle-Grade And Younger Fiction Round-Up (Early 2019)
Captain Cat And The Treasure Map by Sue Mongredien. Illustrated by Kate Pankhurst.
Sometimes pirates are useless.
Patch the pirate cat is always having to get her pirates out of trouble. From pirates overboard to spilled potatoes, there is always something going on. Patch is pleased when the pirates find a treasure map until it turns out the map is cursed. Captain Halibut won’t take anybody’s warnings, so it is up to Patch and her friends to stop the pirates before disaster strikes.
A hilarious first adventure about a pirate crew who would be sunk without their animal friends.
Patch the cat, Ginger the monkey and Cutlass the parrot run the Golden Earring. Captain Halibut thinks he does, but he’s lazy and unwilling to listen to anyone else’s views. This was a lovely new approach to the familiar adventure of pirates in possession of a cursed treasure map. There’s lots of humour in this story. Think silly pirate songs and wordplay and regular jokes from Cutlass the parrot.
Kate Pankhurst’s illustrations bring the story to life and the facial expressions on her pirates and animals give a lot of character.
A brilliant first in the series from a wonderful author-illustrator team.
Bee Boy – Curse Of The Vampire Mites by Tony De Saulles
Melvin Meadly is half bee, half boy. Bee Boy is back, and this time the hive is facing a deadly threat. A plague of vampire mites has taken over beehives all over the planet, wiping out entire colonies. There’s another more local threat too. The local bee-keepers are disappearing. Is this down to the hive-checkers who are checking for the vampire mites, or is something strange going on? The Bee Club is on to the case.
The third book in the popular Bee Boy series.
With real bees disappearing in such numbers, there has never been a more important time to educate children and adults about respecting and caring for bees. Bee Boy is filled with facts about bee-keeping and about the science of pollination which will open the eyes of both children and their adult readers.
I love the style of the illustrations. Although this is an illustrated story, it put me in mind of graphic novels and this will be popular with readers who prefer different formats. There is plenty of detail in the pictures for keen eyes, and I love how many conversations could be started from a single picture.
Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise by Swapna Haddow. Illustrated by Alison Friend.
Little Rabbit is bored. Her family and friends are all too busy to play. When her grandfather Big Rabbit asks her to help with some jobs, Little Rabbit is confused. Big Rabbit doesn’t have a job. Surely he spends all day with his friends? Then she joins him on a visit around friends and neighbours and finds out how much her grandfather does to make sure nobody in the community is overlooked. Inspired by his kindness, Little Rabbit makes herself busy and soon she and her friends are spreading warmth and kindness too.
A delightful story about generosity and sharing.
I always loved animal stories when I read books of this size as a child. From Bramley Hedge to Beatrix Potter, if the story involved dormice or rabbits I was twice as likely to listen. This is exactly the sort of story I would have loved, with its community of residents in their various burrows and dens.
Alison Friend’s beautiful illustrations bring so much to the story. Her work is so fine that every blade of grass seems to move in the breeze and the animals are made real by the texture of their fur. Their expressions are gorgeous too. They capture something of human facial expressions without distracting from the animal nature of their subjects.
I love this new format of books. The stories have a couple of short paragraphs on every page and would be suitable for the earliest reader. Although they look like early readers from the outside, they maintain everything that is wonderful about the picture book format.
Two Sides by Polly Ho-Yen. Illustrated by Binny Talib.
Lula and Lenka are best of friends. They have different habits and tastes and personalities, which is all fine until the day everything goes wrong. It starts with something small – a broken promise and a forgotten pencil-case – but soon it escalates into breaking friends and swearing never to see each other again. As their personalities clash, both Lula and Lenka become increasingly unhappy. Will things ever be right between them again?
A lovely story which shows how different personalities clash, and how different personalities help each other to grow.
This is another book in the new Colour Fiction range, and it couldn’t be more beautiful. Everything about the book, from its endpapers to the story inside is beautifully crafted.
As well as being a story about friendship which will be relatable to a younger audience, this is a wonderful book for exploring the craft of writing. How do we make one character different from another? The fact that the two girls’ thoughts and reactions are shown in different fonts makes it easier to show how their choices show their different personalities.
This shows how beautiful and how creative younger fiction can be.
Jasper & Scruff by Nicola Colton
Jasper likes everything to be of top quality. The one thing he wants more than anything else is to join the Sophisticats, the society for sophisticated felines. Finally, he is invited to a Dinner Party where his merits will be tested. As he prepares to make his best impression, he meets Scruff. Scruff likes sloppy licks and rolling in mud and chasing after balls.
During the dinner party, Jasper finds himself spending the evening at the beck and call of the Sophisticats. Only Scruff is prepared to see him without judgement, but Scruff just isn’t up to Jasper’s standards.
A heart-warming story about the true meaning of friendship.
This book couldn’t be more needed. In the age of social media, judgment is no longer confined to dinner clubs. We’re all at it. What makes a likable profile or picture, what standards we expect to see if someone wants to be considered beautiful. If they put their food or their home up for judgment. It has never been more important to learn early that there are other values which matter more. That friendship shouldn’t begin with a talent contest and a judging panel.
The story also examines themes of inequality. Is it right that the Sophisticats have multiple-course meals when others are starving?
I adore the illustrations with their muted purple-and-orange pallete and their sketchy style. They are the sort of pictures which look effortless but take great skill. I hope they will encourage young artists to pick up their pencils and draw townscapes and indoor scenes.
Ellie And The Cat by Malorie Blackman. Illustrated by Matt Robertson
Ellie is obstinate and rude and bad-tempered. She doesn’t want to stay with Grandma and she’s not afraid to let people know it. When her behaviour goes too far, Grandma plays a trick of her own. She uses magic so that Ellie is forced to switch places with Jolly the cat. She challenges Ellie to find a lost ring if she ever wants to be a girl again.
Suddenly Ellie needs the help of those around her like Dimple the mouse and Vinegar the spider, and she’s not going to get it by being rude. They’ve also got to contend with the real Jolly, who quite enjoys being a girl.
A brilliant read from a classic author.
This reminds me of stories I read in my childhood, particularly of stories by Dick King-Smith. The adventure takes place over a short time period, it is set in a place familiar to the protagonist and it still manages to have excitement in every chapter. These stories are lovely for newly-confident readers. The challenge must be to keep the reader hooked without overcomplicating the plot. Malorie Blackman has done this to perfection and I highly recommend this to newer readers.
Laura Norder – Sheriff Of Butts Canyon by Guy Bass. Illustrated by Steve May.
Long ago in the Wild West, a place called Butts Canyon was run by Laura Norder. After seeing off the fearsome Ten Gun Ben, Laura decides that she and everyone else will live by her ten golden rules forever. That’s when the real trouble starts. People keep breaking Laura’s rules, and as her enforcement gets stricter, rebellion stirs. The mysterious Duncan Disorderly leaves messages all over town in protest at the Golden Rules.
Can Laura unmask Duncan Disorderly and reinstate her rules?
A brilliant read which will be highly relatable to many children. It can be difficult accepting that, although our ideas of how to manage the world come from the right place, there is no way to enforce them. Management belongs to specific spaces at specific times of the day. Outside of those, there is no manager. It is not for us to enforce order. Doing so not only makes us unpopular, it causes real hurt.
The story achieves a brilliant balance in showing that Laura’s feelings come from the right place, but to be a real sheriff, she needs to learn the responsibilities and limitations of the role.
Illustrations from Steve May add extra humour. Think fat mayors and mean bandits and all the characters familiar from cartoons.
Toad Attack by Patrice Lawrence. Illustrated by Becka Moor.
One morning a toad lands on Leo’s head. Soon the toads are turning up all over town. They’re not ordinary toads, either. These are flying toads, the like of which have never been seen before. Rosa’s Dad Raj is making a special nature programme about the toads and he thinks they’re related to the cane toads which eat everything in their path. Leo and Rosa will have to act fast before the Exploders eradicate the toads.
A wacky and wonderful tale which brings an old plague to the modern day. Animal plagues have been around since Biblical times, but never before have they been captured on smartphones. This is a story for the latest generation.
Becka Moor’s illustrations are as lively and brilliant as ever. Spotting the flying toads will bring amusement to young readers.
Arlo, Miss Pythia And The Forbidden Box by Alice Hemming. Illustrated by Mike Garton.
4X, now 5P, is back. Their last teacher came from the Stone Age, but even though Mrs Pythia doesn’t wear animal skins, she’s definitely not normal. For one thing, she always seems to know what is about to happen. And can it be a coincidence that she shares her name with the prophets of the Ancient Greek world?
As 5P rehearse for their play of Pandora’s Box, they must fight the temptation to open Miss Pythia’s very real box. Once again, it falls to Arlo to be the leader and keep his classmates safe, but can he do it all alone?
Another hit from the author and illustrator of Arlo, Mrs Ogg And The Dinosaur Zoo.
This looks set to be a brilliant series, following Arlo, his classmates and a string of teachers who don’t exactly come from the age of OFSTED. I kept turning the pages to see whether the box would be opened and once again I loved Arlo’s distinctive voice.
This author-illustrator pair is a perfect match. It feels as if the drawings sprung up to match the text and they add to the humour with extra details and brilliant facial expressions.
A series to look out for, and one which will be popular with teachers introducing historical time-periods.
The books in this post were gifted in exchange for honest review. Opinions remain my own. Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Books UK, Oxford University Press, Stripes Publishing, Barrington Stoke and Maverick Arts Press for the gifted copies of your books.